The technology of Luther’s day looked like the printing press, the pocket watch, and access to a florilegium. The Latin term, florilegium, describes a gathering of quotes on a particular subject. Imagine gathering flowers together into a bouquet. The image of verses as flowers gathered into a unified bundle sparks such romantic ideas in my theological mind! The careful thought that goes into arranging flowers, the fragrance of a bloom, and the gift given in love is a perfect picture of what we have in Scripture.
We need an expert to teach us about each flower we see in the florilegium of verses concerning the Incarnation. The Gospel writer, Matthew, connects the blooms in our bouquet. His gospel begins with Jesus’ genealogy, a collection of three bundles of fourteen names. These bundles aren’t all identical roses, but rather a mix of Jews and Gentiles, and men and women, all of whom are sinners. Through this list, Matthew displays the brokenness that Christ enters into so that he might save his people.
Matthew’s genealogy brings Christ into view from the patriarchs, the kings, and the exiles before introducing two new flowers to the bouquet, Joseph and Mary. Now Joseph was worried because he found out that his betrothed was with child. Joseph was afraid to take the pregnant Mary as his wife. While he made plans to divorce her quietly in order to not ruin her reputation, God revealed a different plan for Joseph through a dream.
The bloom of Joseph’s dream should smell familiar. The dream invites the reader to remember the dreams of the Old Testament: the dreams of the Patriarchs, the Kings, and the Exiles. Jacob had a dream of a ladder, where the LORD repeats the promise given to Abraham (Gen 28:21). King Solomon had a dream and received blessings from God (1 Kgs 3:5-15). Exiled Daniel had a dream of the Son of Man in full power and authority (Dan 4). God used dreams in the Old Testament and God used a dream for Joseph to explain how he would save his people.
The angel of the LORD proclaims, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Matt 1:20b-21).” The patterns in the bouquet are becoming more evident. God’s people are sinners, and now, at the perfect time, he is coming to save them from their sin.
Matthew then tells the reader why these things happened:
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us) (Matt 1:22-23).”
The prophet that Matthew is pointing to is Isaiah. In Isaiah Chapter 7, the Lord sent Isaiah to King Ahaz. This is the same King Ahaz that Matthew listed in the bunch of kings in Jesus’ genealogy. Like Joseph, King Ahaz was afraid of what he saw: kings conspiring around him, enemies closing in. And just like Joseph, Ahaz was afraid. The Lord gives a word of comfort to Ahaz, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands…” (Isa 7: 4). The Lord even offers Ahaz to ask for a sign in order to comfort and assure him, but Ahaz refuses. Luther reflected on Ahaz, "But since he now resists the word of God and refuses a sign, how can his faith be strengthened?" (AE 16:84). Yet despite Ahaz’s lack of faith and refusal, God still delivers his promise. According to the prophet Isaiah, God will provide a sign. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa 7:14).
Immanuel, God with us. This Jesus, Savior of sinners, does not do his work from afar. He comes to dwell with us, humbling himself, taking on flesh, that we might be redeemed. The Word of God reminds us that we are not alone, our God is with us. He has come down the ladder to join us on earth, he is a Son of David with an eternal throne, and he has all authority and power to save his people. Jesus is with us.
In contrast to the unfaithful Ahaz, Matthew records the miracle that Joseph was given both a promise from God and faith in that promise. Martin Luther calls this precious gift of faith the most mysterious miracle of Christmas. Where there was fear, God created faith. Roland Bainton writes in The Martin Luther Christmas Book, “The Virgin birth appeared to him a trivial miracle compared with the Virgin’s faith.” This miraculous faith is a gift of God, who works this miracle through his word. Matthew introduces his readers to the Christ, the one who came to save. Jesus was promised to the patriarchs, descended from kings, and prophesied by the prophets. Matthew gathers all these blooms together and arranges them to show us who Christ is and what he is going to do.
This florilegium is a bouquet from Christ Jesus. He is our Savior who loves us. From the very beginning, he is the God who saves. He does so not from afar, but by coming down to us as one of us.
He gives us the gift of love through his word.
This gift is for you, beloved of the Lord.
This gift is Christ, Christ for you. He is Immanuel, God with us.
Jesus has come to save you and give you new life.